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Full waiting rooms? This could be the tonic…

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The time patients spend waiting for treatment in hospitals and medical practices across the country is often viewed as wasted.

But independent production company GSP wants to put it to good health effect.

Backed by sponsorships from NPS MedicineWise, National Asthma Council, Cancer Australia and other health groups, GPS – through its Tonic Direct service – transmits programs on health topics such as healthy eating, weight loss, reproductive health, asthma and diabetes direct into dozens of waiting rooms across the country.

The free service – Tonic Direct not only provides the programs without charge, but also televisions and connections – has been developed as a way to make the most of the time of both patients and doctors by giving waiting consumers accurate and useful basic health advice.

It is hoped that by improving the health literacy of patients, doctors will have more time in consultations to provide more detailed and specific advice and treatment.
The production company is co-founded by the ABC’s Health Editor Dr Norman Swan, who also presenter, and Consumers’ Health Forum Board member Karen Carey is Executive Producer.

The system was piloted in three practices and two hospitals in Sydney and Brisbane in the first half of 2013, and full rollout began last November.

Ms Carey said feedback from the first 25 sites using the service had been “very positive, in particular in relation to the increased time efficiency of consultations, which was great for GPs, and that patients were initiating conversations about weight loss and other lifestyle interventions”.

Tonic Direct is a spin-off from the ABC’s Tonic program, and Ms Carey said the company was required to comply with the public broadcaster’s editorial guidelines regarding sources of funding.

“We do not take funding from pharma, our content is entirely free of commercial bias, and we have strict Ethical Advertising Guidelines to ensure that GPs and hospitals are comfortable with what their patients will see on the screens,” she said.

 Ms Carey said GPs were encouraged to provide feedback so that programs could be refined to meet their needs as well as those of their patients.
“Essentially, we see ourselves as a tool for GPs to communicate directly with their patients information that they want their patients to know, but do not have time to deliver in a consultation, such as lifestyle modification,” she said.

Ms Carey said Tonic Direct was negotiating with the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney to conduct a study into the effectiveness of Tonic Direct in helping improve health literacy and outcomes, and to evaluate the benefit GPs derive from having more health-literate patients.

Ms Carey said so far the focus has primarily been on hospitals and larger practices (of at least four GPs), but the service had been installed in smaller practices “where the need is significant”.

She said it had been installed in clinics in rural areas, and it was being installed in a prison, “where there are no GPs, but where the need for health information is great”.

Details of the service can be viewed at: http://tonicdirect.tv/index.php/component/content/frontpage
Adrian Rollins